Wind turbines diversifying Willacy’s farm-based economy
RAYMONDVILLE — In the past 10 years, wind farms have been transforming Willacy County, pumping millions of dollars to help diversify the traditional agricultural economy.
And some developers expect the towering turbines to continue to change the rural landscape for the next 50 years.
Already, more are on their way.
While the physical landscape changes, much of the county’s future might churn off wind farm dollars.
“I think you’ll find wind farms significant here for the next half-century,” Joe Wetegrove, who is involved in an EDF wind farm project, said.
Developers say a natural phenomenon based on the temperatures of land and waters in the Gulf of Mexico drives their companies to build wind farms here.
Since 2009, wind farms have pumped millions of dollars into the economy, helping to bolster its agricultural base.
“It’s a win-win here in Willacy County for the landowners, for the county and for the taxpayers,” County Judge Aurelio Guerra said.
Last year, E.ON Climate & Renewables and Duke Energy’s wind farms have generated about $1 million in tax revenue across the county, Agustin Lopez, chief appraiser of the Willacy County Appraisal District, said yesterday.
Meanwhile, tax abatement agreements have brought more than $500,000 into the county’s coffers, he said.
Now, Apex Clean Energy plans about 100 turbines in the famed El Sauz Ranch while London-based EDF is proposing about 125 turbines along the county’s southeastern edge.
“In the history of Willacy County, we have never had anything like this,” Lopez said. “It has helped tremendously. The whole county has benefited.”
For wind farms, the county’s location along the Gulf of Mexico is turning it into an international draw.
“We have the prevailing easterly wind and it blows almost all the time,” Lyford schools Superintendent Eduardo Infante said yesterday.
In Lyford, the wind farms have helped pump new money into the school district’s low tax base.
“We have reaped the benefit of some additional monies,” Infante said. “It’s renewable energy and it’s a new industry in the area.”
In San Perlita, E.ON’s two wind farms pump about $75,000 a year into the small school district, Superintendent Albert Peña said.
“It helps us keep up with the cost of doing business,” he said.
Meanwhile, wind farm revenue has helped fund drainage upgrades across much of the county’s lowest-lying areas.
“It’s been a fantastic improvement,” Paul Greenhill, manager of Willacy County Drainage District No. 1, said.
With the money, the Lyford-area district has helped Drainage District No. 2 fund improvements in the Raymondville area, Greenhill said.
Greenhill said new money has helped the district hire crews and buy equipment.
“Before the wind farms, we sat there for many years and maintained the ditches,” he said. “Now we’ve redone some so they work better.”
Since E.ON launched the county’s first wind farm with 112 turbines in 2009, the wind farms have helped diversify the county’s farm-based economy while lessening its dependence on erratic oil and gas production, Guerra said.
“We are more diversified than in the past when we depended on oil and gas,” he said. “When it wasn’t pumped it put a strain on the school districts and the county.”